Today’s Gospel passage opens with a request for Jesus, as it were, to show His credentials – to prove He had proper authority to do the things He had done and say the things He had said. This request for a sign occurs at least six times in the Gospels – so it must have been a common sticking point in Jesus’ interaction with the religious authorities. On its face, it seems a natural enough request, because what Jesus said was that they had got it wrong, and that they needed to change their priorities. People in power don’t like that kind of challenge. “Who are you to suggest . . .?!”
But it is not just people in positions of civil or social power. Most of us exercise power over others in some way or another. We are challenged, at our level, just as are those in higher positions than ours. Would we, too, ask for a sign? If we did, would it be a genuine request or an off-putting retort?
Jesus said His works spoke for themselves. Today’s interaction with the scribes and Pharisees follows shortly after Jesus cured a blind and deaf man – surely an extraordinary demonstration of power. Jesus’ critics recognized that such a feat was unusual, but they attributed Jesus’ power to the devil, rather than to God. The fact is that we can easily find ways to explain away the extraordinary events which impinge upon our lives, as well. We can explain away anything if it calls us to change our values and beliefs.
Always, when we read or hear Gospel accounts of Jesus’ interactions with His people, we need to put ourselves into the scene. Can we be sure what side of the transaction we would be on? Would we want a sign, too? What would satisfy us?
It is helpful, I think, to reflect on the last verse of the reading from Micah for today. Micah’s criteria might well be taken as the sign we should be paying attention to: Is the person who challenges us one who does justice, loves kindness, and walks humbly with God? Do such credentials come from the devil?
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